Two current court cases could set a legal precedent over who is liable when someone is injured at a show and potentially signal the end of ride judging.
The cases involve ride judge John Chugg, who broke his back at the Dublin Horse Show in 2004 when he was bucked off in the ring.
He is suing for damages — but both the show and the horse owner’s insurance company deny liability.
Hugh McKusker, vice-chairman of the Irish Shows Association, said: “We are awaiting the outcome with bated breath — it could have very large implications [for showing].
“Judges need to have confidence that they are insured. If not properly sorted, this case could mean shows lose judges altogether.”
Canice Farrell from Portlaois, Co Laois, entered his horse, now known as Troy, into the middleweight hunter class at the Dublin Horse Show on 4 August 2004.
Mr Chugg, aged 60 at the time of the show, is a respected English panel judge with many years’ judging under his belt.
Troy bucked in the gallop and Mr Chugg was thrown. He decided to remount the horse, but was bucked off again and this time broke his back.
Seven years later he is suing Mr Farrell and the Royal Dublin Society (RDS), which runs the show, for ongoing medical conditions relating to this injury.
The matter will be heard in the Dublin High Court on 15 July.
However, Dublin Horse Show has a disclaimer in its schedule that could absolve them of all liability.
It reads: “Each exhibitor shall be solely responsible… for any loss, injury or damage… arising from any animal exhibited by him… and shall indemnify the Society against all legal and other proceedings.”
Competitors must sign this disclaimer in order to enter the horse show.
Mr Farrell’s insurance company FBD Insurance has claimed that he invalidated his insurance by agreeing to the show’s terms and conditions.
This legal wrangle may leave Mr Farrell personally financially liable and imperil the role of ride judges.
Mr Farrell’s wife, Liz Lane, who was riding the horse at the RDS, told H&H: “The situation is very stressful with huge implications for the industry as a whole.”
Respected ride judge Richard Mills said he would retire from judging if ride judges were abolished.
“The pleasure of being a ride judge is the challenge and gaining an assessment of a horse that can only be obtained by the ride,” he said.
Neither the RDS nor Mr Chugg wished to comment on the case.
This news story was first published in the current issue of Horse & Hound (19 May, 2011)